for National Geographic News
Part of the Digital Places Special News Series
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Lucifitias Neurocam created the jelly floaters that teem in the water as well as the winged gridbirds in the air.
And Pagan Bishop created the Basic Evo Objects and coded them to mutate, multiply, and fill the land.
Lucifitias, Pagan, and a few other inhabitants of the online world Second Life are behind the genesis of one of the first ecosystems in this virtual environment.
In Second Life, people create online personas—known as avatars—that they use to explore artificial neighborhoods, chat with others they meet, build elaborate houses and clubs, and design gadgets. (Related story: "'Second Life,' Other Virtual Worlds Reshaping Human Interaction [October 17, 2006].)
But "even considering the unparalleled freedom to create that has been given to users of Second Life, much of The Grid [the online world] remains lifeless and very much inert," write the authors of the Ecosystem Working Group Web site.
This group of about a dozen programmers is working to flesh out Second Life with non-player creatures that have lives of their own.
Over the past several months the project's primary playground has been a sandy beach plot called Terminus, where the team has created a stable ecosystem with a few species of virtual plants and animals.
There's only one other ecosystem in Second Life that rivals Terminus in complexity: an island called Svarga, where rain makes plants grow, bees pollinate the plants, and the plants can slowly evolve.
Although the island's creatures are beautifully drawn, the computer code behind its inhabitants is hidden, and visitors can't create new living things.
But the island inspired Corey Hart, a neuroscientist at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to create Terminus and the Ecosystem Working Group.
Hart, who goes as Lucifitias Neurocam in the game world, also created an open source computer language for the artificial life, which anyone is free to use and change.
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES